Sometimes it feels as if 2010 so far can be summed up as an ongoing quest to avoid discussing Avatar. (Okay, you want my one-word review? Meh.) Fortunately, a number of filmmakers have stepped up to offer heartening proof that the whole of cinema isn't henceforth going to be consigned to the twin plagues of Polaroid goggles and half-baked storytelling. Jessica Hausner -- previously known for Lovely Rita and Hotel -- has gone a good deal farther, taking her guests into a world as rarefied as Pandora, but quite, quite real, in Lourdes.
In case you didn't know, Lourdes is a city in France, site of a purported miracle in the nineteenth century and subsequently the locus for pilgrims hoping that the hand of God will relieve them of their various illnesses and disabilities. Amongst Lourdes, the film's contemporary group of visitors is Christine (Slyvie Testud), a quadriplegic who's still open to the possibilities of divine intervention, even if she was far more impressed with Rome. Through her eyes, Hausner stages her story as a dry, ironic comedy -- she observes the day-to-day process of nuns, priests, and wait staff serving a steady flow of faithful, and tracks what happens when Christine stands from her wheelchair and starts walking. And she provides no easy answers, content just to watch as a maybe/maybe not miracle subtly shifts the interactions of those who observe it.
Let me say it right now: This is the first of my favorite films of this year. I love the ambivalence of the story; Testud's quiet, exquisitely sculpted performance; and Hausner's way of using actual locations and extended takes to let us assess events for ourselves.
Hausner and I got into what it's like observing the human sea that travels through the real Lourdes, and how a filmmaker molds her story to tread the fine line between blind faith and full-on skepticism. Click on the player above to hear the interview.